Over the years, I have published a number of pieces about the emerging role of employees as an external communication channel, and of how internal and external communication are converging.
My Canadian friend and occasional debating partner Judy Gombita takes another view.
In a substantial, well-written post in PR Conversations, Judy highlights a number of legitimate concerns about actively mobilising employees to advocate a company and its products on their own social accounts and in their own communities.
A good point, but…
Judy makes a good point—employee advocacy programmes which are clearly contrived or coerced can be damaging to company relationships with employees and customers alike.
But there is one massive thing she misses out: that much employee advocacy is employee-initiated, either as an outcome of natural interactions between an employee and people in their own communities, or a result of an employee’s desire to help the organisation on his or her own time.
Enabling Natural Interactions
Like it or not, employees represent the public face of any organisation, even those with rock-star CEOs or KGB-style message management. They are continually asked about their work, and about their companies’ products, services, cultures and corporate behaviour.
Ensuring that employees are well-prepared for those conversations is hardly contrived or coerced. Making sure that employees know the necessary facts and the boundaries of organisational messaging is conscientious, and indeed, compassionate.
It is conscientious because, given that hundreds of conversations between employees and the public occur daily, making sure employees understand key company messages can minimise unintentional and costly reputational errors.
It is compassionate because, for those employees who want to “do the right thing”, giving them a working definition of “the right thing” can be a bit useful.
Unleashing Employee Goodwill
In some cases, employee advocacy is employee generated—and actively seeks corporate support. This is hardly far-fetched: in the mobile industry, where I currently work, companies are heavily branded and are locked in fierce competition in each country. Team and company spirit can be very high, and it is not unknown for employees to show their pride and champion their brand in their communities. Enlightened self-interest is a main driver: employees are not only proud of their brand identities, but know the positive difference even a small shift in market share can make.
Enabling, not Enforcing
External employee advocacy, when employee-initiated, can be genuine, powerful, mutually enriching and commercially valuable. It is also an increasingly important element of the corporate communication picture. While it may be unwise to try to stimulate or incentivise it artificially, it is even more unwise to discourage what is likely to happen anyways, starve it of the information and message guidance it requires, or deprive it of needed organisational support when it is asked for. Employee advocacy should not be enforced, but it should definitely be enabled.